I remember the first time someone showed me a Boolean search string.  It was sometime in 1994 and my company had gotten internet access for the first time.  Once I got online I found AltaVista and some of the other search sites and went to work looking for candidates.  Then someone showed me a Boolean search string.  It was EPIC!  I could apply grammatical algebra to source great looking candidates!  And I thought that high school math would be useless.  Finally I could quit spending all that time actually reading a resume and trying to figure out what someone did for a living.  Boolean would do all the grunt work for me!

It became pretty clear that while Boolean searching was a great way to find resumes it was definitely NOT a panacea to the sourcing and qualifying issue.  It turns out that a lot of very different careers will share keywords.  For example an Architect, Developer, SQA, Analyst, web-page designer, and a barista will ALL have the word ‘Java’ on their resume.  And people quickly got tired of telling me that although they had some experience writing scripts they were certainly NOT a Java developer.  I expect that I probably wasn’t the first recruiter to pester a database guy with an exciting job offer as a software quality engineer.  This is absolutely the number one complaint that I get when I ask a candidate to talk with me about their job search.

Clearly Boolean was more of a tool than a silver bullet.  Time to rethink this.

When I started recruiting technical professionals, I floundered for a few months like every other new recruiter.  I didn’t know what I was looking for and didn’t have the courage to ask anyone.  After beating my head against a wall I finally swallowed my pride and asked an Embedded C developer if he would sit down with me and explain what it was he did for a living.  Probably the best 90 minutes I have ever spent.  Technical people generally LOVE to discuss what they do for a living.  I went back to my desk armed with enough knowledge to at least make an intelligent decision about calling a particular candidate.

Over the years I developed a small group of contacts that I could speak with about technical terms and processes that I didn’t understand.  Powder Metallurgy.  Lost Foam Casting. Three Tier Architecture.  Client/Server technology.  Online Mainframe versus Batch. 

Kind of begs the questions why does a middleware architect still get calls about a job as a GUI designer?  Why does a Product Design Engineer still get calls about a Supplier Quality Engineering  job?  The simple answer is that they share keywords.  Middleware Developers and GUI designers will both have Oracle on their resume.  A Design Engineer and a Supplier Quality Engineer both have FMEA and PPAP on their resume.  I know that the difference between a Oracle Fusion developer and an Oracle Database Developer don’t seem particularly SUBTLE to technical people, but from a keyword point of view, and to a recruiter under intense pressure to make a certain number of daily calls, they are. 

And a lot of recruiters simply aren’t encouraged to educate themselves about the subtleties of the positions they are staffing.  There are a lot of reasons for this but it basically comes down to the de-professionalizing of the recruiting career in general.  Recruiters in a lot of different staffing companies (especially the ones that are ‘Preferred Vendors’ for high volume accounts) aren’t generally trained to read a resume or to find out what a candidate does for a living, much less what a candidate WANTS as a next step in their career. 

They are trained to perform complex searches in an internal database and on job boards.  There are a lot of different business models in the staffing industry but a large majority of them perform metric based reviews of their recruiting staff.  X calls = X contacts = X submittals = X interviews = X hires.  There are agencies out there that literally count your calls on a daily basis.

Here is the basic workflow:

  1. Construct search string based on the keywords in the job description
  2. If a candidate has an arbitrary percentage of the keywords, they get a call.  If they don’t, they don’t.
  3. Describe the position to the candidate and if they say they are interested in the position, submit them.  Now.
  4. Rinse and repeat.  Once you have 3 or 4 submittals, consider the position covered and move onto the next one.

(Note:  If you are on vacation and don’t return the phone call for a few days, the position will probably already be ‘covered’)

If you are a technical professional, I am quite sure that you have had interactions with recruiters that follow this basic path.  There is a school of thought that it is less time consuming to let a candidate self-eliminate than to train a recruiter to evaluate on the front end.  After all, it only takes a couple of minutes to have a recruiter make a call and have the candidate tell them they aren’t a fit. 

Unfortunately, if a candidate is in the job market and posts their resume on one of the job boards, they will be exposed to a lot of recruiting-spam. 

The solution?  Find a recruiter or a recruiting company that you like and that you have a bond with and stick with them.  Find yourself a recruiter who doesn’t initiate a conversation with a job description but who asks you what kind of position you are looking for.  Of course they probably have a description sitting on their desk or they wouldn’t have called you in the first place.  Find a recruiter that has the gumption to tell you that after talking with you, that the position probably isn’t a good fit for your background and goals.  HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART:  Find one that continues to speak with you after you collectively determine that you aren’t a fit for the position they are currently recruiting for.  Someone that asks you questions about your background, past employment, and who tries to figure out what kind of position WOULD be a fit for you.  Relationships always have been and continue to be critical in job seeking, both from the recruiting side and the job seeker side.

Written by Russ Dotson